A Link That’s Symbiotic, and Sometimes Sick

The shocking death of Princess Diana has raised disturbing questions about the symbiotic and sometimes sick relationship between celebrities and the tabloid press. The accusatory fingers are out, and the bluntest criticism was articulated by Princess Diana’s brother, Earl Charles Spencer: “I always believed the press would kill her in the end”; editors and publishers who paid for intrusive pictures have “blood on [their] hands.” Yes. But it’s not quite that simple.

Police in Paris, where Princess Diana, her companion, Dodi Fayed, and a driver were killed in an automobile accident, are questioning the seven photographers said to have been pursuing the car at the time of the high-speed crash. If it can be shown that the photographers’ pursuit helped cause the crash, then they should be prosecuted as any other irresponsible driver would be. It is indeed disgusting to hear eyewitness reports that some of the paparazzi who may have helped cause the accident scrambled to take photos of the death scene and its victims even before help could arrive.

The tragedy is a nightmare for many of the rich and famous who also have been aggressively pursued by celebrity photographers. Hard-to-get photos such as “The Kiss” picture of Princess Diana and Fayed reportedly garnered as much as $3 million worldwide from the tabloids. Thus the feeding frenzy that surrounded their every move.

Arnold Schwarzenegger and wife Maria Shriver were chased by photographers as they took their son to school one day last spring; a minor collision resulted and the Schwarzenegger auto briefly was wedged between two cars. The photographers were charged with misdemeanors. Alec Baldwin and his wife, Kim Basinger, were confronted by a photographer as they brought their newborn daughter home. Baldwin attempted to stop the photographer and later was acquitted of misdemeanor battery charges. Tom Cruise, who said he’s been chased in the same tunnel where Princess Diana was fatally injured, thinks there ought to be laws to control paparazzi.


Obviously no one has the right to trespass on private property or conduct dangerous automotive pursuits. There are already laws against that. Beyond the legalities, the entertainment press should reject the anything-goes tactics that are employed by some paparazzi. But the celebrity industry machine--the one that relentlessly promotes stars and is all too happy to bask in free publicity to make mega-bucks for their latest project--also needs to consider how it can help rein in a monster it helped create. Finally, those of us who shell out the money to buy the tabloid newspapers or who watch the television peekaboo shows also must ask what small part we all play in contributing to an out-of-whack preoccupation with celebrities. As one sad reporter in London commented Sunday morning: “The tabloid press is disparaged by many, and read by many more.”